Understanding medical malpractice cases in Iowa

Anyone in Iowa who has suffered due to medical negligence should have an understanding of how these claims work.

If you believe that you or a loved one has a medical malpractice lawsuit, you may have a few questions. A few initial questions are answered below. Please keep in mind there is no substitute for speaking directly with an experienced attorney.

What is a medical malpractice lawsuit?

A medical malpractice lawsuit is the term used to describe a civil lawsuit brought by a person, or his or her estate, against one or more medical providers (i.e. doctor, hospital, etc). In general, the person suing ("the plaintiff") makes allegations that the medical providers made certain mistakes or errors while treating him/her and that as a result, the plaintiff suffered damages. In legalese, the mistakes or errors are referred to as breaches in the standard of care. Damages can be monetary such as lost wages or they can be subjective, such as pain and suffering.

How soon do I need to file my claim?

Iowa has one primary statute which creates deadlines for the filing of medical malpractice lawsuits. The statute has two sections which are known as the (1) statute of limitations and (2) the statute of repose. See Iowa Code §614.1(9)(a). At their most basic level, the statute of limitations states that an adult must file a lawsuit within two years of the date the claimant knew, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have known, of the injury or death. The deadline is extended for minors if the medical error occurred while under the age of eight. The statute of repose states that in no event shall a lawsuit be allowed more than six years after the date on which the medical error occurred unless a foreign object unintentionally left in the body caused the injury or death.

What is important to know is that the calculation of a medical malpractice lawsuit filing deadline is a fact-specific and sometimes subjective determination. There are several questions that must be answered. For example: What is the age of the claimant? When did the claimant know, or when would have a similarly situated reasonable person known, of the possible medical negligence? (This question is known as the "discovery rule"). Does the claim involve a foreign object? Does the statute of repose block the potential claim?

If you think you may have a medical malpractice lawsuit, you should not delay in contacting an attorney. Case law has further developed these two statutes and there may be legal doctrines which further alter their application to each specific case. It is best to be conservative and contact an attorney as soon as you believe you may have a medical negligence lawsuit. Taking immediate action may help avoid any filing deadline concerns.

Does Iowa have caps or limitations on medical malpractice damages?

As usual with the law, the answer is a mixture of "yes" and "no." Iowa does not have dollar caps or limits on compensation that can be awarded by a jury but Iowa does limit plaintiffs to certain categories of damages (i.e. pain and suffering, lost wages, etc.). There are also limitations on certain category subsets. For example, Iowa law generally prohibits the recovery of medical expenses paid for by an employer provided health plan or policy. Our office will help you understand the compensation you may be entitled to if there was a breach in the standard of care causing injury or death.

Does a patient's role in the incident come into play?

Iowa does have comparative fault laws which generally apply in all personal injury lawsuits, including medical malpractice lawsuits. If a plaintiff is found to be less than or equal to 50% at fault for the claimed damages, the amount of damages will be reduced by any percentage of fault assigned to Plaintiff. If the plaintiff is found to be greater than 50% at fault, he/she will be barred from recovery. However, it is rare for a medical malpractice plaintiff to be found at fault for a medical provider's breach in the standard of care.

Similar to comparative fault, Iowa law does reduce a plaintiff's compensation if he/she fails to mitigate his/her damages. In short, this means that a plaintiff has a duty to take all reasonable steps to avoid the claimed harm. For example, if you can recover or heal from a doctor's mistake by following a different doctor's advice to undergo physical therapy, you should complete physical therapy. A plaintiff is not allowed to seek money for damages which could have been avoided.

How do I know if I have a claim or not?

Medical negligence cases often involve complex subject matters and extremely detailed facts which must be applied to the law. The best way to determine if you have a viable medical negligence lawsuit is to speak with an attorney. As discussed above, you should do this sooner rather than later.

If medical negligence is suspected, there are several steps that will need to be taken prior to filing a lawsuit. These steps include collecting and reviewing medical records and identifying and retaining medical experts willing to testify against the medical defendants. In most cases, Iowa law requires expert testimony to prove claims of medical malpractice.

In short, it is not a simple process to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Medical negligence claims are complex and vigorously defended. You will need the guiding hand of an experienced attorney.